Where Are They Now? Aisha Cissna

Former Legislative Intern Aisha Cissna

Gabriela Lara, Aisha Cissna,, and Heather Kenny are all smiles as they talk about electric vehicles at the 2018 Eureka Natural Foods Earth Day Celebration. Photo courtesy of Aisha Cissna.
Gabriela Lara, Aisha Cissna,, and Heather Kenny are all smiles as they talk about electric vehicles at the 2018 Eureka Natural Foods Earth Day Celebration. Photo courtesy of Aisha Cissna.

During the 2014-2015 school year, I interned under Dan Sealy, Legislative Analyst for the NEC, from whom I learned how to navigate the wonderful, wiley web of our State and Federal bureaucracy.

At the ripe age of 18, I was just becoming acquainted with the processes the Senate, House, and Assembly use to shape our lives here in California and across the country. In between Committee hearings in D.C., Dan introduced me to the nuanced world of lobbying and reading between the lines of polite dais debate. He showed me how to craft an effective policy brief and where to go to track the newest amendments to the Farm Bill, the Sportsman’s Heritage bill, DeFazio’s forestry bill, the PLANT Act, and the Water Resources Development bill—bills which shaped the world we live in today.

The ability to connect the dots—between statute amendments, the political winds of our District and State elected officials, and the world we will live in tomorrow—has served me well after leaving the NEC nest. I had the fortune of interning with several other environmental organizations during my studies at HSU, including EPIC, Greenfire Law, and the Great Basin Institute. The thirst for volunteerism continued as I dove headfirst into the CivicSpark Americorps program upon graduation, learning the ins and outs of Community Choice Aggregation at the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) in Old Town Eureka.

Community Choice Aggregation (also known as Community Choice Energy) can be summarized as “democracy for energy nerds.” RCEA develops and implements sustainable energy initiatives that reduce energy demand; increase energy efficiency; and advance the use of clean, efficient, and renewable resources available in the region.

During my service year with RCEA, I attended tabling events and delivered presentations explaining the merits of locally controlled electricity generation. I spent hours reading through the California Code of Regulations and learned how the California Public Utilities Commission controls electricity rates, approves the renewable energy content of our electricity mix, and incorporates public input into decisions such as decommissioning the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear power plants.

I then landed a position as Transportation Specialist at the RCEA. In the Advanced Fuels and Transportation Department, our goal is to transition our region to low-carbon transportation options. Among other activities, we manage a network of 14 electric vehicle charging stations, plan for future hydrogen fueling stations, and dispel common EV (electric vehicle) myths by conducting ride-and-drives as well as expos.

Transportation is responsible for about half the greenhouse gas emissions produced in Humboldt County, so transitioning as many vehicles as possible to zero-emissions technology is key to climate change mitigation. Governor Brown has set lofty goals for our state: 1.5 million zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) need to be on California roads by 2025, which equates to 3000 ZEVs by 2025 in Humboldt County. Today, we have 908 registered Nevertheless, our work is cut out for us. In order to support those 3000 electric vehicles, Humboldt County needs to have over 400 charging stations installed—not including in-home residential chargers.

The skills I gained at NEC continue to serve me. I stay up-to-date on the federal landscape of transportation policy and state developments. At the time, I envisioned myself utilizing the skills Dan taught me on a bigger stage— a law firm or state agency.

A few months ago, I chatted with a Sacramento bureaucrat about the prestige of holding a state-level office. I had long placed national and state elected officals on a pedestal, convinced they had a distinguished intelligence that allowed them to set the singular vision for the rest of us. By the end of our conversation, this changed. I was surprised by the point we agreed on most: local agencies are just as impactful—if not more impactful—than state agencies. State officials spend a lot of time trying to seek out the “boots-on-the-ground” so their laws are salient and effective. Local government agencies are largely responsible for determining how high-level policies are implemented.

This sentiment extends to local non-profits as well. While not necessarily perceived as prestigious, non-profits such as the NEC manifest meaningful positive change on meager budgets. Whether by cleaning up our coast or advocating for responsible ecosystem management policies, non-profits turn experiences into informed phone calls and emails to the legislature. Non-profits and local agencies have an abundance of knowledge that can be utilized to submit comments on draft regulations as they undergo the rulemaking process.
Dan Sealy, with the NEC, continues organizing our community to push our local and state officials to adopt laws that represent our community’s values. He has made these efforts accessible through his articles in EcoNews, workshops, and his ongoing legislative internship program.

I extend a personal thank you to Dan, who has shared his vast knowledge, kindness, crafty HSU pranks, and his beautiful Trinidad home with many passionate HSU students as we sought out strategies and tools to navigate our State and Federal bureaucracy.